Will the Left Finally Stop Buying It?
Posted Monday, July 25, 1999
Things we thought we'd never say: There's an interesting and important article in the current American Prospect. The piece, by Melvin Konner, a professor at Emory University, challenges the American left's near-hysterical opposition to the theories of evolutionary psychology (or Darwinian psychology, or sociobiology, for short). Konner specifically takes on best-selling biologist Stephen Jay Gould (and his colleague Richard Lewontin) for being "wrong in their attack on sociobiology."
First, Konner argues, there is widely-accepted evidence that the Darwinian psychologists are right about many things -- most controversially that men and women are innately different, men "less committed, more restless," women "more careful in choosing their mates," men putting premium on physical appearance, women valuing status and income more, etc.. Second, Konner denies that Darwinism is inherently reactionary, serving to "buttress the institutions" of the status quo, as Gould et al. have charged. Acknowledging "obnoxious" truths about human nature, Konner sensibly points out, doesn't mean approving them, but rather means recognizing a "human, cultural need to control them."
Could Konner's Prospect essay mark the beginning of the end of Stephen Jay Gould's well-cultivated popularity on the left? I hope so. I haven't read all that much Gould, but I did read his celebrated anti-IQ tract, The Mismeasure of Man, which an eminent panel of judges (that included Gould) recently named one of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the century. I remember it as one of the 10 Most Dishonest Books I've ever read -- as dishonest, in its way, as Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's pro-IQ The Bell Curve. Konner identifies the salient characteristics of Gould's M.O.: the smug dismemberment of straw men, the attacks on century-old IQ researchers as if that more or less ends the contemporary IQ debate, the "guilt by juxtaposition served in place of evidence," and the attempt "to make modern behavioral biologists of all kinds seem as much as possible like 19th century racists." . . .
I'm not suggesting that Gould, a respected Harvard scientist and MacArthur "genius," is a poseur whose writings on sociobiology and IQ seem more designed to dazzle leftish graduates students and honor his crude, paleo-left self-image than to get at the truth ... Well, OK, yes, that's what I'm suggesting. ... I refer you to the pretty devastating attack on Gould by Robert Wright, from a 1990 issue of The New Republic, or this 1996 attack in Slate ... To read more about Gould than you probably really want to, try this extensive website.
Gould recently published a 15th anniversary edition of Mismeasure of Man, for which he has written a conceited, name-dropping introduction. A sampling: "My buddy Alan Dershowitz ... my scholar's soul ... My special skill lies in a combination ... [of] two salient and richly interacting components ... rarely combined in one person's interest. ... I first met Phil Donahue ... they do not have expertise in this vital subject, and I do. ... I am a patriot at heart." And then you get to the section prefaced by "permit me a few paragraphs for pure bragging." If you wish to purchase this annoying book ... go look it up on Amazon.com yourself!
-- Mickey Kaus
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Copyright 1999 Mickey Kaus.